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John McCain has a complicated relationship with Donald Trump. That's no secret. Last summer, Trump mocked the Arizona senator for having been a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Still, McCain has vowed to back whoever ends up being the Republican nominee and now that's going to be Donald Trump. As Jude Joffe-Block of member station KJZZ reports, that support could make McCain's own re-election race much tougher.
JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: Eight years ago, John McCain was in Trump's shoes and was the Republican presidential nominee. But now he's running for a six Senate term in traditionally Republican Arizona. At a fundraiser last month, McCain told donors he's worried that Trump's language on Mexican immigrants and the border wall could damage the GOP brand with Arizona's growing share of Latino voters. Politico released a recording of those comments on Thursday morning.
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JOHN MCCAIN: The Hispanic community is aroused and angry in a way that I have never seen in 30 years. And so this is going to be a tough campaign for me.
JOFFE-BLOCK: Nevertheless, just a few hours after those comments hit the internet, McCain appeared at a chamber of commerce lunch in Phoenix and vowed once again to support Trump as his party's nominee. Speaking to reporters afterward, McCain tried to downplay the idea that Trump would hurt his own re-election.
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MCCAIN: Oh, I think there's some aspects that make it somewhat more difficult, but the advantage I have is that 100 percent of the people of Arizona know me. They know me. And so I believe that they'll be making their judgment on me and my record and what I can do for Arizona rather than on Donald Trump.
JOFFE-BLOCK: Chris Herstam is a lobbyist who's also worked in state government for both parties over the years. He says McCain may not have it so easy.
CHRIS HERSTAM: When you are running for the U.S. Senate and you endorse an individual that has made those comments, it's going to rub off very negatively on yourself. So that's a factor that McCain has never had to play with.
JOFFE-BLOCK: Herstam believes McCain's Democratic challenger, Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, has a fighting chance this year. Polls show a tight race between the two.
HERSTAM: The fact that there are more Latinos than ever that will be voting in this election and that they are enraged about Donald Trump, and now McCain is supporting Donald Trump. That's nothing but bad news for John McCain and good news for Ann Kirkpatrick.
JOFFE-BLOCK: Kirkpatrick seized on Trump's role in the race months ago and released this attack ad back in February.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Donald Trump is dangerous for America.
DONALD TRUMP: I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: But no matter what Donald Trump says, John McCain would support him for president.
JOFFE-BLOCK: Many prominent Republicans say they won't vote for Trump, but that's harder for McCain. Trump won the Arizona presidential preference election by more than 20 points in March. Stan Barnes is a former Republican state senator and lobbyist, and he says McCain can't afford to upset Trump's supporters.
STAN BARNES: His constituency is more motivated, more energized, than any contingency we've seen in many elections.
JOFFE-BLOCK: Barnes says McCain built his political brand around being a maverick and says he should embrace much of what Trump represents in a year when many voters are fed up with politics as usual. For NPR News, I'm Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix.
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